Temple Glossary

Wat Complex – Building Layout

Wat Klang Wiang – Chiang Rai

Important structures and elements within a Thai wat or temple may include;

  • (1) Bot (Ubosot) – ordination hall
  • (7) Viharn (wiharn, vihan) – sermon hall
  • (2) Chedi (stupa, pagoda) containing relics of the Buddha
  • Prang (Khmer or Ayutthays style chedi)
  • Sala – open-sided pavillion
  • (11) Ho Trai (Ho Phra) – library
  • (11) Mondop – structure above library
  • Dai Sema – boundary stones
  • Naga – serpent
  • Chofa(h) – bird or horn-like roof finials
  • Kuti – monks quarters
  • (11) Ho Chan – dining hall
  • 19) Vajakudee – toilet facilities
  • (13) Ho Rakhang – bell tower

Wat

A Wat is a Thai Buddhist temple or monastery, usually a collection of buildings, shrines, and monuments with different architecture, function and importance within a walled courtyard. Temple architecture relates to both the historical period when the temple compound was constructed, and to the ethnic origin of the community in which the wat is located. Northern Thailand temples are predominantly constructed in Lanna style, but there are also Tai Yai (Shan) and Tai Lue (Sipsongpanna) influences, as well as traces of Ayutthaya and Sukhothai design concepts.

Thai temple complexes come in an variety of shapes and sizes, but they all share the same set of basic elements. Every temple must have a Ubosot (Bot) which is surrounded by six or eight Dai Sema boundary stones, and will often have one or more Viharn housing an important Buddha image.

Wat Names: The wat name often indicates status – for example, a wat with “Phra That” in the name indicates that it houses a relic of the Buddha.

Usually, there are three primary areas within a Thai Wat compound; a Ceremonial area, a Public area, and a Living area for the monks. The layout, scale and complexity of such areas varies markedly between Wats.

The Ceremonial Area

The Thai term for this area is the Phuttawat and this is where the ceremonial and devotional activities take place, and where the principal Buddhist statues are located.

Ubosot

p1030755The Ubosot (Bot) is the ordination hall of a Wat complex, where new monks take their vows and where other important ceremonies take place. It is usually but not always the largest structure, and invariably ornately decorated and contains multiple Buddha images and intricate art work. There is only one Ubosot per wat.
The Ubosot may also be described in English as the Ordination, Convocation or Assembly Hall. Ubosot are always used by Buddhist monks in performing various monastic rituals or significant ceremonies. The Ubosot is the heart of the temple complex and enshrines the Wat’s principle Buddha statue and usually has three doors; at the front, side and rear. The structure may resembles the Viharn, but is distinguished by the 6 – 8 sacred Bai Sema leaf-shaped boundary marker stones around it that define the limits of the sanctuary.

Viharn

Wat Jetyod - Chiang RaiThe Viharn (Vihara, Wiharn, Wihara) serves as the sermon hall and is often the busiest building in a Wat complex, although sometimes smaller than the ubosot. The Viharn is open to all, but it is disrespectful to not be properly dressed. Just like the Ubosot (Bot), the Viharn usually has an altar and one or more Buddha images and there are worshippers performing religious rites at most times of the day.

Unlike the ubosot, a Viharn does not have sema stones as a boundary. It contains (as does the Ubosot) usually one major and many smaller Buddha images. Many temples have more than one viharn.

Chedi

A chedi is also known as a stupa or pagoda, and is usually a solid, tall bell or dome-shaped structure in which there might be relics of the Buddha, texts or a revered religious teacher may be buried within. Some temples have more than one chedi.

Throughout Thailand, there are chedi of classic types in various forms. The norm is a bell-shaped dome on a square throne surmounted by a low circular colonnade supporting the high and slender Chatra (umbrella). The 7 chedi arrangement at Wat Jet Yod in Chiang Rai is quite unique.

Prang

A Prang is an Ayutthaya or Khmer-style chedi is a tall slim spire and is usually elaborately carved. This feature was later adopted as an element in Thai religious architecture. Usually, a Prang has three niches and one entrance door facing a very steep staircase. The internal area sometimes contains Buddha statues.

Prangs can be found mostly at older temples in Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, Lopburi and in the Khmer temples in Isaan province (Phimai, Phanomrung). However this Khmer or Ayutthaya style structure can also be found in Bangkok (Wat Arun, Wat Pho, Wat Phrakaew). It is often described as having the shape and form of an ear of corn. An example of a Prang in northern Thailand is at Way Analayo, Phayao.

Sala

Sala - Wat Sri Khom Kham - PhayaoA Sala is an open-sided building used by the general public for meetings, for sermons, and as a place of rest during temple visits. Some are magnificent structures, ornamented with glazed tiles and gilded decorations on the gables.

Ho Rakhang

Ho Rakhang - bell towerA belfry or bell tower that houses the large temple bell used to summon the monks to prayer. Usually, the belfry is constructed from four wooden or brick poles, and provides a high platform with stairs / steps on either 1 or 4 sides. A pyramid-shaped roof is constructed over the platform, with the bell is suspended within.

Chofah

Chofahs are the bird / horn-like decorations on the end of the temple roof ridges (finials). Chofahs are often decorated with small bells that tinkle in the wind. They represent the head of the mythical “Garuda” and are very characteristic of Thai temples, adding to their overall attractiveness.

Naga

Naga - Wat Phra That Doi Ngam MungNaga are a representation of the mythical serpent that sheltered the Buddha while he was meditating. In Lanna (northern Thailand) temple architecture, the Naga flank the staircase that ascends to the Viharn or Bot. In sculptures, it is depicted sheltering the head of the Buddha with its own. Naga may also be placed at the beginning of a staircase to the temple (as per Wat Phra That Doi Suthep in Chang Mai).  Another version of the story is that it was a cobra, and is often represented in Buddha images.

Luk Nimit

Rarely, and only when a Wat is incomplete / under construction, nine round stones about the size of a cannonball and known as “Luk Nimit” may be awaiting placement. Eight are covered and placed in the Bai Sema markers outside the completed Bot, and the ninth larger stone is placed under or in front of the main Buddha statue within the Ubosot.

Monastic Living Quarters

The Sungkawat area within the Wat complex is the monks living area, and usually includes some or all of the following buildings;

Kuti

Kuti - monks living quarters - Wat Huay Pla Khung, Chiang RaiA residential building where the monks live and sleep. Kuti come in lots of different shapes and styles from single simple wooden structures to modern interconnected blocks made of more substantial materials.
Kuti are the quarters for the monks that reside in the temple compound. They can come in all forms and shape.
Normally, Thai temples have the residential section of monks (Sangghavas). Kuti is monks’ living place and varied in several sizes and shapes with simply construction, and no any artistic features.

Ho Trai & Mondop

Hi Trai & Mondop - Wat Klang Wiang, Chiang RaiAlso known as Ho Phra – this is the scripture hall or Buddhist library of the temple, the place in which religious texts are kept. It contains the Tipitaka (Teachings of the Buddha or The Buddhist Scriptures), other important Buddhist religious sacred manuscripts, and some holy objects.
A Mondop is usually a very small and highly decorated building, sometimes constructed above the library, and may serve as store room for holy objects used in religious ceremonies.

Gabpiya Kudee

A kitchen and food storage area where offerings from the faithful are kept and if necessary cooked. Spare food is given to temple boys and animals.

Vajakudee

Toilet facilities.

Ho Chan

Dining hall-may be used for other function too.

Sala Kanparian

A place for studying Buddhist teachings.

The Community Area

Known as the Thoraneesong in Thai, it is often found at the back of a temple, and may house the crematorium and an open area for social activities. Northern Thai temples usually have a significant degree of separation between the ceremonial / living quarters of the Wat and the crematorium, which is often ornately decorated and is easily recognised by its long, slender chimney.

Temple Etiquette

Thai temples are obviously places of worship, and when visiting a temple, you should be sensitive to any activities being conducted by the local people. Don’t be rowdy, be respectful and dress conservatively – especialy at sites of national or provincial importance. In rural Thailand, temples often accommodate schools, serve as community meeting places and are where funerals and cremations take place. As with any place of worship, you should always be considerate of worshippers and respectful towards monks.

  • Remember that all temples are functioning religious facilities, not merely great photo opportunities.
  • Dress appropriately, especially in high-profile temples. Clothing should cover shoulders and knees. Short skirts are not permitted.
  • Take off your shoes before entering an Ubosot or Viharn. Wearing shoes in the compound itself is fine, unless signposted otherwise – as per Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.
  • If you sit down inside a temple complex, do not point you feet towards the altars or Buddha images. In Thailand, the feet are considered the ‘lowest’ part of the body, and it is polite to avoid pointing them at other people.
  • is important to note that a woman must never touch a monk.  Instead of handing anything directly to a monk, use a male intermediary, or place the item on a table. If the monk is seated, place the item on a cushion or the floor in front of the monk.
  • Do not touch, pose with or frolic about in front of Buddha images. Treat them with reverence and respect, regardlessof your personal beliefs.
  • Please excercise discretion when taking pictures of local people using the temple.

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